Blaze Starr, bur­lesque dancer linked to gover­nor, dead at 83

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY JONATHAN MAT­TISE AND CAIN BUR­DEAU

Blaze Starr, a bur­lesque icon and strip­per who drew tourists to post-World War II Bal­ti­more, lent glam­our to New Or­leans and be­came known far and wide for her af­fair with a col­or­ful mid-cen­tury Louisiana gover­nor, died Mon­day. She was 83.

She died at her Wil­son­dale, West Vir­ginia, home af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing heart is­sues dur­ing the past few years, said her nephew Earsten Spauld­ing.

Born Fan­nie Belle Flem­ing in Wayne County, West Vir­ginia, Starr long per­formed at the Two O’ Clock Club in Bal­ti­more, earn­ing her the nick­name, “The Hottest Blaze in Bur­lesque.”

She’s bet­ter known for what hap­pened when she landed at the Sho-Bar club in New Or­leans.

That’s where Starr fa­mously had an af­fair with Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long, who served in the 1940s and 1950s.

‘Knock­out’ Beauty

Gus Weill, one of Louisiana’s first po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants who got his start in pol­i­tics in the 1960s, said Starr was a “knock­out” beauty who gave New Or­leans glam­our. He did not know her per­son­ally.

“They had the ro­mance and history, and she added a good dol­lop of glam­our,” Weill said about her con­tri­bu­tion to New Or­leans. “She was a won­der­ful dancer and much loved.”

Ted Jones, an 81-year-old for­mer aide to Long, said Long’s af­fair was the re­flec­tion of “a 60-year-old man try­ing to rein­vent his life.”

Jones said the open af­fair lasted be­tween 1959 and Long’s death in Septem­ber 1960, but didn’t mar Long’s legacy — although it gave his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents some­thing with which to “jump on him.”

“Of course, Ms. Blanche (Long’s wife) didn’t like her, but that was be­side the point,” Jones said. “It didn’t mar his legacy; it demon­strated that old men have a flair for nice women.”

Jones re­called the last time he saw Long was right af­ter the for­mer gover­nor had se­cured a con­gres­sional seat in 1960. He was sit­ting on the edge of a bed at the Bent­ley Ho­tel in Alexandria, Loui- siana, with his arm around Starr.

“Per­sonal mis­be­hav­iors on the part of male politi­cians were not an un­usual thing,” said Ale­cia P. Long, a history pro­fes­sor at Louisiana State Univer­sity. She is not re­lated to the Long po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. But she added that Long was a “par­tic­u­lar case be­cause he was so open about it.”

The flam­boy­ant strip­per who grew up in West Vir­ginia’s coal­fields also laid claim to sleep­ing with John F. Kennedy be­fore he won the pres­i­dency.

Starr later mi­grated more to­ward com­edy acts when she bought the Two O’ Clock Club.

Film­maker John Wa­ters, a Bal­ti­more na­tive who cel­e­brated the city’s weird­ness in movies such as “Pink Flamin­gos” and “Pecker,” said he watched Starr’s shows as a teenager, though he never met her. He said her wardrobe was a ma­jor in­flu­ence on Di­vine, the cross-dress­ing ac­tor who starred in sev­eral of Wa­ters’ movies.

“Other boys my age were at football games and the Ori­oles and the Colts, but I was think­ing about Blaze Starr, and not in an erotic way, ei­ther,” Wa­ters told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Mon­day. “Just from a showbiz point of view, I re­spected her deeply.”

Wa­ters said Starr was an im­por­tant fig­ure in the history of post­war Bal­ti­more.

“She was a strip­per on The Block, which for a long time was Bal­ti­more’s only tourist at­trac­tion, re­ally, from the Sec­ond World War and af­ter, that was why peo­ple went to Bal­ti­more,” he said. “I still think she was the best tourist at­trac­tion that Bal­ti­more ever had.”

He said she was “never tawdry” and was able to build a di­verse fan base.

“She had a sense of hu­mor, and she turned what was once thought of as a neg­a­tive ca­reer, be­ing a strip­per, into a class act in a weird way,” Wa­ters said. “No one looked down on Blaze Starr.”

Starr co-au­thored her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in 1974. The book was adapted 15 years later into the movie “Blaze,” star­ring Paul New­man as Earl Long and Lolita Davi­dovich as Starr.

Spauld­ing re­called his aunt as car­ing, sen­ti­men­tal and a char­ac­ter.

“She was tal­ented at any­thing she wanted to do,” he said.

She hand-made many of her elab­o­rate bur­lesque out­fits, was a fan of mush­room and gin­seng hunt­ing and quickly picked up how to play the banjo, he added.

AP

In this Sept. 2, 1959 file photo, Blaze Starr, a bur­lesque star and strip­per, ar­rives in New Or­leans by plane from Mi­ami to visit Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long.

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